Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day 2012

Maybe you've noticed them outside stores, in the mall, by the side of the road - people holding large bouquets of little red crepe paper flowers.  Perhaps you have also noticed other people handing over money - $1, $5, $10, even $20 - for one of those little red flowers.  Then you remember - it's Veterans Day.  Of course, they're poppies.  And so, you buy one, too.

Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day because the peace treaty ending World War I was signed in the 11th day of the 11th Month at the 11th hour in 1918.   However, it is and always was the day we honor all the men and woman who have served their country in the armed services - those who are living, those who have passed away and those who have fallen in battle.

After reading The Poppy Lady by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh this week, I was a little curious about the poppy itself.  The poppy, the flower so connected to veterans as a symbol of remembrance, has its own history that begins on the battlefields of World War I.

Flanders before the fighting began
World War I was a trench war, meaning that most of the fighting was done on the ground.  Troops would dig deep trenches facing their enemy's trenches, fight until one side gained some ground and then move forward.  It didn't take long for the lovely fields, meadows, and forests of Europe to be decimated wherever the fighting occurred.  But the field poppy is a nice hearty flower that will bloom annually and those stirred up battlefields were the perfect place to germinate.  In the spring of 1915, the first spring of the war, dormant poppy seeds, scattered by the wind, did just that, germinated and thrived on the battlefields.  And so every spring of the war, the fields and meadows would be alive with bold red poppies swaying in the breeze.  

It was during that first spring when he saw what nature had done with these fields, even in the midst of so much death and devastation, the John McCrea, a Canadian Lieutenant Colonel, penned his famous poem In Flanders Fields, as tribute to a fallen soldier.

During the War

Moina Belle Michael, who had already done so much for the soldiers and veterans of World War I even as it was just beginning, was so moved by this poem when she read In Flanders Fields, that she declared "I shall buy red poppies...I shall always wear red poppies - poppies of Flanders Fields.  And so she always did as a symbol of remembrance, earning her the nickname The Poppy Lady.

The poppy was quickly adopted as the memorial flower by the countries involved in World War I.

Flanders Today
And when it is worn on Veterans Day it has a dual purpose: as a symbol of remembrance and as a symbol of solidarity, binding all veterans to each other - it is, after all, made by veterans, sold by veterans, to honor veterans.

That's because every year since 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars have distributed live poppies for remembrance.  But live poppies were to get, so in 1923, it was decided that poppies, called Buddy Poppies, would be made out of crepe paper by disabled and needy veterans who would be paid for their work, often providing them with a much needed income.  Nowadays, the poppies are still made by disabled and needy veterans in the VA hospitals and veterans homes around the country.  Not only does the money from the poppies help veterans personally, but it also helps the VA provide necessary services for rehabilitation and important programs for veterans and their families, including help for the orphans and widows and widowers of veterans.

And talk about honors:  this year, if you happen to be in the NYC area, the annual Veterans Day parade will be honored with the participation of eight Navajo Code Talkers.  I think that's pretty exciting.  And the parade will go on as usual despite Hurricane Sandy and this week's Nor'easter.  

And if you aren't around, check to see if there will be a Veterans Day parade where you live.  These are always inspiring events to attend. 

One last thing: it's always a good time to teach kids about Veterans Day.  A very nice teaching guide is available here.

Sunday Salon #4


  1. We had an amazing Veteran's Day celebration Friday at my school. Lunch was provided free for veterans and all the doors were decorated. The highlight for me was when the children spontaneously broke out in song during America the Beautiful. So moving.

    My Sunday Salon: Everything Looks Better in Underpants, or My Weekend at the 2012 Texas Book Festival (as Told in 15 Photos and 1 Video)

    1. It sounds like an amazing Veterans Day celebration. The veterans must have also appreciated all your efforts and especially the kids singing. How wonderful!

  2. Wonderful post! I do love poppies...and now I'll be watching for them!


    1. Yes, poppies are a nice flower, aren't they. And so full of meaning for so many.

  3. Very informative post. Thank you!!

    1. Thanks, I think it is always nice to understand how and why somethings are what they are - like poppies for remembrance.

  4. Very cool, I didn't know about the code talkers in the NYC parasd.

    1. Yeah, I thought it was cool, too. There are many code talkers still living so it was especially nice and a beautiful day for a parade to boot.